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Student Activities' budget cut causes funding freeze

By Christopher Salinas | Pulse Staff Reporter

Student Activities' budget cut causes funding freeze

The Palo Alto College Student Activities budget was cut $30,000 this academic year because of a budget overestimate made by the college district the previous year.

The 2011-2012 Student Activities budget was approximately $249,000, which is a projection that is based off of student enrollment from the year before. Confusion occurred over whether the budget was cut because of overspending, or if the money was cut to fund other programs. Neither of these was the case.

“When they (the college district) give us the money, they give us an estimate about how much we receive through Student Activities fees,” said Carmen Velasquez, director of the Office of Student Engagement and Retention (OSER).

The college district is in charge of funding OSER. They look at student enrollment over the past three to four years to determine how much money will be given to each campus for its Student Activities. It starts off as an estimate at the beginning of the school year, and then every March, the district will either give the colleges more money or take some away, depending upon how correct their estimations were.

The budget comes from fees that students are charged to fund student activities and organizations. Students are charged $1 per credit hour for the number of hours they take.

Around 85 percent of the activities on campus are funded by Student Activity fees. Last fall, OSER funded a prominent speaker who came to Palo Alto to speak to students during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During finals, they bought tacos and other food for students to eat, and treated them to chair massages. They’ve funded the Working Writer Series, where local writers speak to students about their experiences, their job position and other helpful information to motivate students who are pursuing a writing career. Last month, OSER took students to see the Andy Warhol exhibit at the McNay Art Museum and to see King Tut in Houston. All of these activities are open to every student on campus, as long as students sign up.

OSER funds clubs on campus, such as the Student Veterans Organization. Vincent Bosquez, coordinator of Veterans Affairs, said that Student Activities helped fund the Veterans Day ceremony held in 2011. Students, faculty, staff or members of the Palo Alto community who were veterans were honored during the ceremony.

Yvonne Richardson, instructional skills specialist in the Reading Department, said Student Activities funds the Palomino Book Club, which provides refreshments during meetings and books that are raffled off to students. This provides an incentive for students to attend meetings, because it cuts down on the cost of books for students.

The Office of Student Engagement and Retention strives to ensure that the Student Activities funding is being used properly and that every program reaches its full potential. Spending had already been planned out for student trips, excursions and other events for spring 2012, so it took OSER by surprise when their budget was suddenly cut.

They were unaware of the fact that district estimates the budget off of previous years and that it wasn’t a guaranteed amount. When district finalized all registrations and fees, they realized that they had overestimated and had given Palo Alto $30,000 too much. District took this money back, leading to the current budget freeze. This has affected all future requests for this fiscal year, which ends on Aug. 31.

While there is still some money left, most requests have been declined. Now that Student Activities has a better understanding of how the money is assigned, they have also adjusted how they will budget their money for the 2012-2013 academic year. The Student Activities fee hasn’t been implemented for very long, so to plan future budgets, Velasquez has begun looking at previous budgets to see how much they received and how much they spent.

Instead of spending all the money they receive at the beginning of the academic year, they will begin to set some funds aside in case a situation like this were to happen again.

“It’s definitely a lesson learned, and so now we are a lot more conscious of how it works,” said Velasquez.

Money isn’t always taken away, though. The last year, the college district actually underestimated Palo Alto’s budget, so OSER received $58,000 more in March.

For more information on upcoming activities and events at Palo Alto, visit www.alamo.edu/pac/events/.